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German outreach makes most with music

Sister-county relationship takes another step

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Oct. 24, 2007, 1:45 p.m.)

Like math, music is a universal language.

Only this language is much more fun.

The students at Star Center Elementary School in Pell Lake learned that first hand a week ago when they got to hear a band of students who speak another language play melodies that are recognized around the globe.

The Smoke Revival Orchestra, a high school band from Bad Arolsen, Germany, located in Walworth County’s “sister county” of Waldeck-Frankenburg, visited and played a handful of songs for the packed gym.

A rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago” that would have made Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood proud had the students’ toes tapping and hands clapping. Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” brought out memories of Disney’s Lion King movie. Even Motown queen Aretha Franklin’s “Think” wasn’t too much for the band and its two young singers.

“I thought they were very good,” Star Center fifth grader Kerry Auckland, 10, said afterward. She and her classmates got autographs from the band as they ate lunch at the school.

The band, which is called Rauch Erinnerung Orchester in German, came to the United States Oct. 2, visiting its “sister city,” Hermann, Mo. It then traveled to New Glarus, Wis., where there is a relationship with the local high school, Director Werner Sostmann said.

The 32-member band stopped in Pell Lake because of the “sister county” relationship Walworth County has with Waldeck-Frankenburg, a district in west-central Germany.

“I think this is the beginning of another relationship,” Sostmann said, noting his band members, ages 13 to 20, enjoyed heir stay in the Midwest.

Bernd Radeck, president of the German-American Club in Bad Arolsen, helped raised $40,000 to bring the students over once again. This year was the 20th year of the relationship with the Missouri city and the New Glarus schools.

“It’s very important for young people to see and get acquainted to different cultures and different people on both sides of the ocean,” Radeck said. “It’s important for Americans to go out there and see what’s going on, and it’s equally important for Germans to come to America to see school life, how homes work, how governments work.

“Music, in my experience, is the best ambassador to all of that. It’s very easy to interest others and to involve others.”

The band played a free concert with the New Glarus High School band earlier this week. Each band learned the other’s music for the show, Sostmann said.

“It was interesting to play together with them. It was good to learn (with) them,” said Karina Senftner, an 18-year-old singer with the Smoke Revival Orchestra.

“I think it’s important to learn (about) other countries and other people in other countries.”

The students go home with a better understanding of the United States and, hopefully, the Americans they visited have a better understanding of Germany, Sostmann said.

“Not even one pupil said they were unhappy with their (host) family,” he said. “The kids will go home and tell what the American families are like. (They’ll tell) their full experiences and that they are the best experiences.”

The visit to Star Center is the start of rejuvenating the sister-county pact, which started in 2002, Walworth County Administrator David Bretl said.

“We’re hoping to generate a little interest in not only Star Center School, but the county-wide intergovernmental relationship,” Bretl said. “I get the question, ‘What do you get out of this relationship?’ Sometimes the greatest benefit can be student exchanges. They probably have the greatest likelihood of succeeding in changing   people’s lives and expanding their relationships, from going for a visit or just exchanging letters or e-mails.”

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